Most of us have heard of PTSD as it gets thrown around quite casually, and is mentioned often in the media. However, not everyone truly understands the deeper aspects that are involved with receiving this diagnosis. If you or someone you know suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, there’s probably a lot more that you’d like to learn about the disorder. After all, any type of mental health issue is always easier to deal with when you can gain a better understanding of it.
This means learning what it is and what causes it, what the symptoms or signs are, who this disorder can affect, and so much more. In this complete guide for dealing with PTSD, you will learn all of those important elements. In doing so, you will gain a stronger understanding of the disorder, and the ways in which you or a loved one can be treated. If this disorder affects someone you love, you can also learn ways to help and support them through it all. Keep reading to begin your journey of understanding PTSD on a deeper level.
Firstly, let’s talk about what PTSD is. As mentioned above, PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s a mental health condition, but specifically, it’s an anxiety disorder that is diagnosed to people who have experienced some stressful or traumatic situation.
This disorder is actually made up of four stages, according to Pyramid Family Behavior Healthcare. Read the below listed stages of PTSD, in the order they usually occur.
This first stage happens immediately after the event. The person suffering in this case is often struggling to come to terms with what has just happened.
They’re usually highly anxious, alert, or even guilty. This is usually the stage that is shown in movies and TV shows when depicting someone with PTSD.
The next stage people sometimes experience after a traumatic event is one where they fall into denial. Whether they are aware of it or not, the person is usually trying to avoid the troubling feelings that come with what has happened to them.
This is the stage when “numbing” is common, through the use of either alcohol or drugs, especially with those who have fallen into such addictions before. Obviously, this can cause even more troubling issues to start compounding.
This is when some of the more immediate problems get solved. The person suffering will now try to adjust to life after the traumatic event has occurred.
It can go one of two ways—the person might become more cynical and disillusioned by what has happened to them, or on the positive side, they may start fully accepting help from others and working to deal with the symptoms they’re experiencing.
This last stage is where the person diagnosed with PTSD will start to deal with the longer-term effects such as nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety.
This recovery stage is usually reached while receiving treatment and therapy, after which they can begin to recover for the long run. Eventually, they can fully recover and live their life as normal.
If you think you or a loved one might be suffering from PTSD after having undergone a traumatic event, it can help to narrow it down by knowing some of the signs and symptoms.
Keep reading to find the below list of the known symptoms of PTSD to keep an eye out for, according to Rethink Mental Illness’s site.
Anyone can show signs of PTSD. This includes people of any age, race, background, or culture. This is because traumatic events can happen to anyone. It’s much more likely to occur with people who have experienced a natural disaster, assault, a local war, sexual assault, terrorist attack, or any kind of accident or injury.
Psychiatry’s website states that “PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.” Additionally, women are apparently twice as likely to experience PTSD compared to men.
Psychiatry also mentions that “Three ethnic groups – U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians – are disproportionately affected and have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites.”
What exactly causes symptoms of PTSD to show up in people? Well, there are lots of reasons that people can start to display signs. The possible causes for PTSD are including, but not limited to the following list.
A natural disaster is a natural event that causes significant damage and/or a loss of life.
Some examples may be but are not limited to tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes and mudslides.
Any sort of personal assault or witnessing of a personal assault can cause PTSD for the survivors and/or the witnesses.
Some examples may be but are not limited to rape, domestic violence, being attacked by a stranger, sexual assault, being mugged or robbed, childhood neglect or verbal, physical or mental assault.
PTSD is common amongst soldiers and those that have witnessed the ravages of war.
Some examples may be but are not limited to fighting in combat or living in a war-torn country.
Traumatic events can encompass a wide range of occurrences in life and they leave an indelible mark that often shapes the way we move forward. These occurrences have a profound impact on both the survivors and the witnesses.
Some examples may be but are not limited to a near death experience, a kidnapping, being involved in a car crash or an animal attack.
Certain life events may also cause post traumatic stress syndrome depending on the circumstances surrounding the event.
Some examples may be but are not limited to the sudden death of a loved one or the birth of a child.
You might wonder why some people suffer from PTSD and some do not. Although we are all different, and it can be hard to predict who will react to circumstances in what ways, there are certain risk factors associated with PTSD sufferers. These different risk factors include the following.
Childhood traumas—Those who have experienced childhood trauma are more at risk for experiencing PTSD following traumatic events.
History of mental illness—According to Apibhs, research shows there is a link between hereditary mental issues, like schizophrenia and depression, for example.
No social support—Those who don’t have a strong connection with those around them may be more susceptible to PTSD symptoms.
Gender—Women are twice as likely to experience PTSD as men.
Addiction—A history of substance abuse is another risk factor that should be considered. The risk of PTSD increases for those who have struggled with addiction.
Individual perception—It might also simply be that some people perceive an event as traumatic, while others may not. We are all different at the end of the day, and some of us feel and react differently to things than others.
There are a wide variety of treatments and therapies that are helpful for those suffering from PTSD. It's important to do your research and find the therapy or treatment that works best for you.
There aren’t medications specifically designed to treat PTSD, but there are plenty that are aimed at other mental psychiatric conditions, like anxiety and depression, that can help with its side effects. See some of the more commonly used medications for PTSD below:
SSRI’s, or Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Zoloft, Paxil, or Prozac.
SNRI’s, or serotonin-noripinephrine reuptake inhibitor, such as venlafaxine (Effexor). According to Very Well Mind, it “has been found to be particularly effective in the treatment of PTSD.”
Antipsychotics and the anti-hypertensive alpha-blocker prazosin are also sometimes used to treat people dealing with PTSD.
This is also known as talk therapy, and is a great way to discuss your thoughts, feelings, and symptoms with your therapist. They can also help you to try and gain an understanding of how to manage your symptoms in both the short and long run.
Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy, or EMDR, is a process often used with survivors of trauma, especially those having symptoms of PTSD. Very Well Mind states that this process “utilizes bilateral sensory input such as side-to-side eye movements to help you process difficult memories, thoughts, and emotions related to your trauma.”
This stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and is a common treatment for those with anxiety disorders such as PTSD. It’s basically talk therapy that focuses on the relationship between one’s thoughts, feelings, and the resulting behaviors.
It’s a way of trying to help to rewire the way someone perceives their own thoughts to change the negative or anxious reactions to them. Specifically, Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT, is used to focus on how the traumatic event someone experienced is perceived and helps them cope with their emotional and mental part of that experience.
This is another great holistic healing method many people use and find success with for various ailments, and might be great as a complimentary or alternative therapy. The insertion of thin needles into certain areas of the body can help with health issues such as pain, anxiety, depression, and more.
If this sounds like something you’d be interested to try, look up acupuncturists near you with reliable ratings and reviews. Depending on your health care plan, it may even be covered under your insurance.
This is always a wonderful and holistic way to promote mental and emotional healing. It helps the practitioner to gain control over their thoughts, helps them bring awareness to their thought patterns, and gives them a clearer understanding of who they are without their thoughts and experiences. This, of course, can be greatly beneficial for those struggling with PTSD.
You can practice meditation alone, or in a guided session like one you’d get from a yoga teacher, for example. However, there are other options out there if you’d rather be guided in the comfort of your own home. Try out mediation and mindfulness apps like Headspace, Calm, and more.
This is a more traditional, tried and true type of therapy that works very well for those who feel they could use a support system of people—especially people who have gone through similar experiences. Better Help has a great article called “Can PTSD Group Therapy Help Me?” Which may be a good read for anyone unsure of whether this is the right therapy method for them.
Very Well Mind also has a piece on their website on the benefits of PTSD group therapy. Interested in finding group therapy near you? Check out some of these resources below.
This is a special kind of yoga class you can take where there is less hands-on adjustment in the poses from the instructor, and the poses themselves are gentler. The overall message and meditation guidance may even be centered around the topic of trauma.
This concept was a result of David Emerson working with trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk. According to Very Well Mind, “Their research showed that this particular style of yoga helped to significantly reduce PTSD symptoms in their participants.”
This can be an amazing way for survivors of trauma to deal with their feelings in a safe space, while expressing themselves and those thoughts and feelings through art. You actually can work with an art therapist while creating your art, and they can help you navigate through any feelings and what they might mean. This is a great therapy when words simply aren’t enough, and can help to separate the victim from the trauma that happened.
This is a great complimentary therapy if talk or cognitive therapy isn’t quite enough. It helps people work through the traces of trauma that are still living in their emotions and body. It can be done through mediums such as sculpting, drawing, painting, and much more.
According to this Healthline article on art therapy, “art provides an outlet when words fail. With a trained art therapist, every step of the therapy process involves art.”
This is a type of exposure therapy, also called (VRET), that offers the technology for you to be gradually exposed to your traumatic situation while working closely with a trained clinician.
It helps to desensitize you to the experience you had. They’ll basically help you to reach a place where the emotional impact is less and less, while talking you through it the whole way.
If you go to church quite often, then you might find great comfort in getting prayers and advice from your church elders or your priest. They may also know of resources and helpful methods to help you work through your troubling thoughts and feelings.
You can also always go see your general physician about your symptoms. This can be helpful since they have records of all your past exams and health history, and can come up with a good solution that you both feel would work best for you.
They can often refer you to some great therapists, or any other resources they might be aware of that can help.
This is yet another way that you can receive support from others without having to face anyone, or even give your name. Phone hotlines tend to be anonymous and are setup for those struggling to have someone to talk to.
If you’d like to engage in group settings, but you feel safer and more comfortable doing so without the face-to-face aspect, then online chat groups could be a reasonable solution for you.
You can also join a trial that is testing out new, innovative ways to tackle PTSD and the troubling symptoms that can come with it.
MDMA-Assisted Therapy: Although this drug is known as recreational, research is being done to test its viability in the treatment of mood disorders and health conditions like PTSD. Very Well Mind’s article explains that “During MDMA-assisted therapy sessions, traumatic memories are reportedly experienced as less threatening as you process the impact of your traumatic experience with your therapist.”
In the therapy, you’re offered a calm space where you can process your feelings without pressure, or judgment. You can essentially access the memories of the traumatic event you experienced without fear or a sense of threat. This helps people relate to the event and process the feelings involved, which eventually means they can deal with them.
Ketamine Infusion: This treatment has recently emerged as a treatment option for treatment-resistant mental health conditions. Very Well Mind explains that ketamine is administered at a very low dose, to where it is safe for in-office treatment. Just one 40-minute treatment has been shown to decrease PTSD symptoms significantly. This goes on over the course of a few weeks. More testing and research is being done regarding the long-term course of action that would be best with ketamine infusion.
Here are some different ideas on ways you can help yourself when taking part in treatments and therapies.
This is always a great idea. Exercise can boost your serotonin levels naturally, helping you to feel happier and more positive about life. It will also do wonders for your confidence and overall wellbeing, while positively affecting your general health and fitness.
According to a published, peer-reviewed chapter in InTechOpen, sufferers in a study who engaged in vigorous activity like running or cycling helped to lessen their avoidance symptoms.
“Those who engaged in strenuous exercise activity also reported better sleep quality, reduced substance abuse, less pain, and a reduction in overall PTSD symptoms than those who were less active,” says the author of the piece, Robert Motta.
Motta notes that even moderate exercise is beneficial, since it’s known to significantly decreased depression and anxiety. PTSD, after all, has strong connections to those two mental disorders.
Your diet is just as important as your activity levels. What you put into your body truly affects your moods and how you feel, which is why it’s a vital part of recovering from a mental health disorder. Healthy foods help your body to do what it needs to heal your mind over time.
According to Food and Mood Centre, “Diet is a pragmatic and cost-effective intervention approach. It does not have to contend with the barriers of conventional approaches, has only positive side effects and can be used to support therapy or medication. Improving diet is something everyone can and should do.”
There is a significant link, according to the article, between distress levels and the number of vegetables and fruits people eat each day. Lower fruit and veggie consumption is associated with higher stress levels and a decreased level of mental health.
Get in touch with close friends or family who could help to form a support group for you. Communicate openly with them, as much as you feel comfortable, in order to help them to understand what may trigger your PTSD symptoms. Having support can be incredibly helpful for your recovery.
It’s important that you have goals for your recovery, but it’s even more important that you set realistic goals for yourself. Don’t aim so high that you set yourself up for disappointment. Be easy on yourself and make sure the goals you set your sights on are realistically attainable.
Here are some examples of goals you could adopt for yourself:
Overall, you need to be kind to yourself. Remember that this recovery does take some time. Patience and self-love are key.
Get yourself the gift of remembrance jewelry to signify your life before the event happened to you. Link it to the fact that you will feel that sense of normal again one day. This can make your piece of jewelry incredibly special and meaningful. Below are a few options for keepsake jewelry pieces in the event that you are recovering from PTSD.
Personalized photo engraved jewelry is a great, visual way to memorialize yourself before you experienced this psychological trauma, also serving as a reminder to yourself that you can reach that place in your life again. Below are some examples of the options out there.
Custom fingerprint jewelry is another way you could symbolize your identity and your journey to get back to who you are without the PTSD. Some different types of fingerprint jewelry items are listed below.
Whether it's reading a good book, engaging in that DIY project you've been putting off or even diving into a new Netflix series, distracting yourself during your down time can prove to be very helpful.
This is also a great time to consider starting a new hobby or joining a club such as a running club, taking a yoga class or reaching out to your library about local reading clubs.
There is a considerable amount of information and resources available for individuals suffering from PTSD and for families looking to help a loved one.
Downloadable pamphlets and brochures on the disorder:
NAMI—National Alliance on Mental Illness: This website has great information about mental disorders which can be very helpful, and has a whole page dedicated to PTSD.
Rethink Mental Illness is another good place for PTSD information online. It has a downloadable fact sheet as well.
Downloadable books include:
Watch or listen to podcasts that deal with the disorder and talk about new research and therapies that are being done. Here are some of the best podcasts on PTSD in 2021, according to this Feedspot blog post:
Life After PTSD: Healing From Trauma
Flourishing with PTSD
The Anxiety Coaches Podcast
PTSD: People, Trauma, and Stress Discussed
Whole PTSD Podcast
Brain Storm Podcast
PTSD Bunker Gear for Your Brain podcast
There are likely tons of books you can rent on PTSD and peruse at your leisure at your community’s library.
National Center for PTSD—This government site is also a great resource. It’s under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but the site acknowledges that PTSD can affect many people, including those who have experienced combat, and those we have experienced different traumatic events. It’s also the ‘world’s leading research and educational resource’ for PTSD.
Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS)—According to Colleaga, this association is a “non-profit member-based educational and professional development association serving the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security…” It also serves federal health professionals, and their families.
National Alliance on Mental Illness—NAMI is the largest grassroots mental health organization in the U.S., and is dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans that are affected by mental illness.
National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)—Colleaga states that this is a “unique network of frontline providers, family members, researchers, and national partners…” which is “committed to changing the course of children’s lives by improving their care and moving scientific gains quickly into practice across the U.S.”
National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—Their mission is to “advance the clinical care and social welfare of America's Veterans and others who have experienced trauma, or who suffer from PTSD, through research, education, and training in the science, diagnosis, and treatment of PTSD and stress-related disorders.”
Don’t pressure them to talk about it, but be there for them when they are ready. This is an important part of supporting someone with PTSD. You want to make sure you’re gentle in your approach, and that you let them come to you when they are ready.
When they do talk with you, ask what their common triggers are so that you can know how to help avoid those. That will help demonstrate that you are there for them and truly care what things they are struggling with specifically.
Educate yourself about PTSD. The more you know, the more you can help your loved one. This is vital in helping them to recover. Plus, showing them you have learned about their struggle will let them know you’re there to support them.
Make sure you also don’t forget to take care of yourself. You don’t want to get burnout from helping them out!
Get help from others as well. Make sure they have a team of support surrounding them. Delegate tasks that will be helpful to your loved one to others in their support group so it’s not too overwhelming.
Gift them keepsake jewelry to help heal them. These can be extremely meaningful little mementos and can symbolize strength and their identity before and after the trauma.
Firstly, avoidance is a strong correlating factor between what one would consider a normal response to trauma, and that response instead developing into PTSD. This means that avoidance behaviors, or trying to avoid thinking about or dealing with the trauma, leads to a higher chance of experiencing PTSD. This includes avoiding any potential triggers for the experience they had.
ADAA’s site explains the main difference between a normal reaction to trauma and PTSD by saying that “A traumatic event is time-based, while PTSD is a longer-term condition where one continues to have flashbacks and re-experiencing the traumatic event. In addition, to meet criteria for PTSD there must be a high level of ongoing distress and life impairment.”
According to Scientific American, no, you don’t necessarily have to experience a traumatic event to be dealing with PTSD side effects. The article states that “In a 2005 study of 454 undergraduates, psychologist Sari Gold of Temple University and her colleagues revealed that students who had experienced non-traumatic stressors, such as serious illness in a loved one, divorce of their parents, relationship problems or imprisonment of someone close to them, reported even higher rates of PTSD symptoms than did students who had lived through bona fide trauma.”
Therefore, researchers and industry professionals are starting to understand that PTSD is not only a reaction that can happen from those who have endured true trauma, as it has long been believed.
Although with teens, the signs and symptoms are very similar, it can look a little different in younger kids. Apparently, kids can be more regressive and can become much more fearful. They may even act out their feelings when they’re playing.
According to a Kids Health article, “Symptoms usually begin within the first month after the trauma, but they may not show up until months or even years have passed. These symptoms often continue for years after the trauma. In some cases, they may ease and return later in life if another event triggers memories of the trauma.”
There are a few terms for PTSD that are less commonly used these days, but were more often used in the past. Shell shock is one of those terms, and was so used because most people who were recognized to be suffering from PTSD were those who had been in combat during war.
Another few terms that have been used in place of PTSD are battle fatigue, delayed stress disorder, and delayed stress syndrome.
People simply react to things differently. More of a tendency to avoid can certainly lead to more of a problem in this area. The support system in someone’s life also has a great effect on the symptoms and severity of the PTSD.
Untreated PTSD can lead to compiling issues and hinderances in someone’s life, but on the bright side, it’s never too late to treat this disorder. Even after years of avoiding the feelings and triggers associated with the event someone might have experienced, PTSD can still be helped.
It’s very unlikely that the symptoms will ever go away without treatment. Therefore, they can last a lifetime if left untreated. Keep in mind that to be considered PTSD, though, symptoms must have lasted at least a month and interfere with one’s life.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a tough thing to deal with—whether you’re an adult with PTSD, or you have a child with PTSD, it can certainly be a journey working toward recovery. The important thing to keep in mind is that getting treatment is the best way to start reaching a sense of normalcy once again.
You can rise above the traumatic event you’ve experienced. The more you learn and understand about what you or your loved one is going through, the more power you will have to tackle it. That way, you can stop allowing these symptoms to have any control over your life.
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